The NRA works aggressively to expand gun rights during states of emergency. (Photo by Jimmy Emerson)

The NRA works aggressively in the Florida Legislature to expand gun rights during states of emergency. (Photo by Jimmy Emerson)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

As a slew of gun-friendly bills move through the Florida Legislature, the state’s National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbyist has been aggressively trying to keep lawmakers in line—particularly when it comes to one controversial bill.

Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the NRA in Florida, has made news during this legislative session on several occasions for manhandling lawmakers in her effort to get them to approve a bill that will allow people to carry and conceal guns during a state of emergency, regardless of whether they have a permit.

On March 25, 2014, Matt Dixon, a reporter with The Naples Daily News at the Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau, reported how an attorney for the National Guard got on Hammer’s bad side, prompting a meeting with Gov. Rick Scott.

According to The Naples Daily News:

Terrence Gorman, general counsel for the Department of Military Affairs and a staff attorney for the Florida National Guard stationed in St. Augustine, had just given testimony during a Senate committee hearing critical of a bill Hammer supports.

The negative comments led Hammer to lean back in her chair and tell Mike Prendergast, head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, that he’s on her (expletive) list, a comment Hammer confirms she made. Gorman isn’t under Prendergast’s department, so the anger was misplaced.

The testimony sent Hammer scurrying to the office of Gov. Rick Scott, who supports the bill, and quickly led to a letter by the Florida National Guard distancing itself from its own attorney’s remarks.

The National Guard’s Gorman told the legislative committee the bill was a bad idea. Gorman said people shouldn’t be able to have weapons so readily available in a high-stress situation. The National Guard typically deals with security issues if the state’s governor calls a state of emergency, which happens primarily during hurricanes.

According to The Daily News, after Hammer met with Scott and two of his advisors, the Florida National Guard’s head official, Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw, sent a letter to the chairman of that same committee Gorman testified before. In the letter, he reversed the National Guard’s position.

Since then, The Daily News asked for public records related to what happened after that meeting with Hammer, Scott, Scott’s Chief of Staff Adam Hollingsworth, and Scott’s head attorney Pete Antonacci.

According to Dixon:

Hammer said the two-line letter from Titshaw, the Florida National Guard’s top official, disavowing his attorney’s testimony wasn’t enough.

“This letter is woefully inadequate and I do not accept this as part of the remedy to the damage done by Capt. Gorman,” she wrote to Diane Moulton, director of Scott’s executive staff, in a 2 p.m. March 20 email, a day after the testimony.

In a separate email, she questioned whether Scott tried to generate the negative testimony.

“Did governor Scott tell Major General Titshaw to send Capt. Gorman to Tallahassee to lobby against the Second Amendment rights of Floridians?” Hammer wrote in an email to Antonacci, sent hours after Gorman addressed the committee.

In additional emails sent March 20, a day after Gorman’s testimony, she took specific issue with Darrick McGhee, director of legislative affairs for the governor’s office. He was “dispatched” by Antonacci to bring Titshaw’s letter to key senators and express Scott’s support of the bill.

…In the same March 20 email, Hammer said the NRA hadn’t yet “put anything out” informing its thousands of Florida members of the stalled gun bill, but “bloggers” did know about the measure. NRA members are known as vocal political advocates and reliable voters.

“This is not good,” she wrote. “I wanted to give you guys a chance to fix this.”

On Tuesday, Hammer’s group sent out a call to action, slamming opponents of the bill, including the Florida Sheriff’s Association, and asking members to call legislators serving on the House Judiciary Committee.

Due to Hammer’s strong-arming, the bill is now moving forward again. It is getting a third hearing in the state Senate this Tuesday.

The NRA is also backing a slew of other gun-friendly bills in the Florida Legislature, which are also moving forward and with less resistance than this emergency conceal and carry bill. However they all expand some already-relaxed gun laws in the state.

Even though there has been a lot of negative national attention for the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, lawmakers will likely not end the session with successfully revising that law.

However, it is likely that a round of laws making guns more accessible will pass. This is partly because the GOP-led Florida Legislature has many legislators that support gun rights, but it also has to do with the type of power and influence that Hammer and the NRA wield in both chambers of the Florida Legislature—as well as the governor’s office.